Emotional connection to repairs on National Cathedral

  • Head Stone Mason Joe Alonso looks up at a spire that broke apart and damaged the roof of the Washington National Cathedral during a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Head Stone Mason Joe Alonso looks up at a spire that broke apart and damaged the roof of the Washington National Cathedral during a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Head Stone Mason Joe Alonso points to spires that broke off the Washington National Cathedral during a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Head Stone Mason Joe Alonso points to spires that broke off the Washington National Cathedral during a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Head Stone Mason Joe Alonso shows off pieces of the original spires that broke off the Washington National Cathedral during a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011 and their newly carved replacements which sit inside the base of the central tower before they are repositioned on the outside of the cathedral, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Head Stone Mason Joe Alonso shows off pieces of the original spires that broke off the Washington National Cathedral during a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011 and their newly carved replacements which sit inside the base of the central tower before they are repositioned on the outside of the cathedral, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Head Stone Mason Joe Alonso shows off the head of a gargoyle and others pieces of stone that broke off the Washington National Cathedral during a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Head Stone Mason Joe Alonso shows off the head of a gargoyle and others pieces of stone that broke off the Washington National Cathedral during a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Jeanette Gregory of Prince William County, Va., center, take a photo of pieces of a stone spire that broke off the Washington National Cathedral during a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Jeanette Gregory of Prince William County, Va., center, take a photo of pieces of a stone spire that broke off the Washington National Cathedral during a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • The head of a gargoyle and others pieces of stone that broke off the Washington National Cathedral during a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011 are on display at the cathedral, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)The head of a gargoyle and others pieces of stone that broke off the Washington National Cathedral during a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011 are on display at the cathedral, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Champagne bottles dating back decades are on display inside the base of the central tower of the Washington National Cathedral during a tour on damage caused by the 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. Former Head Stone Carver Vince Palumbo and his crew saved a bottle from each New Year celebration. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Champagne bottles dating back decades are on display inside the base of the central tower of the Washington National Cathedral during a tour on damage caused by the 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. Former Head Stone Carver Vince Palumbo and his crew saved a bottle from each New Year celebration. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Champagne bottles dating back decades are on display inside the base of the central tower of the Washington National Cathedral during a tour on damage caused by the 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. Former Head Stone Carver Vince Palumbo and his crew saved a bottle from each New Year celebration. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Champagne bottles dating back decades are on display inside the base of the central tower of the Washington National Cathedral during a tour on damage caused by the 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. Former Head Stone Carver Vince Palumbo and his crew saved a bottle from each New Year celebration. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Head Stone Mason Joe Alonso shows off pieces of the original spires that broke off the Washington National Cathedral during a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011 and their newly carved replacements which sit inside the base of the central tower before they are repositioned on the outside of the cathedral, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Head Stone Mason Joe Alonso shows off pieces of the original spires that broke off the Washington National Cathedral during a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011 and their newly carved replacements which sit inside the base of the central tower before they are repositioned on the outside of the cathedral, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Sections of spires on the Washington National Cathedral remain missing and damaged from the a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Sections of spires on the Washington National Cathedral remain missing and damaged from the a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Head Stone Mason Joe Alonso points to spires that broke off the Washington National Cathedral during a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Head Stone Mason Joe Alonso points to spires that broke off the Washington National Cathedral during a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Sections of spires on the Washington National Cathedral remain damaged from the a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Sections of spires on the Washington National Cathedral remain damaged from the a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Head Stone Mason Joe Alonso stands on scaffolding which has been constructed to repair spires that broke off the Washington National Cathedral during a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Head Stone Mason Joe Alonso stands on scaffolding which has been constructed to repair spires that broke off the Washington National Cathedral during a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Head Stone Mason Joe Alonso stands on scaffolding which has been constructed to repair spires on the Washington National Cathedral which were damaged during a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Head Stone Mason Joe Alonso stands on scaffolding which has been constructed to repair spires on the Washington National Cathedral which were damaged during a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • A section of patched roof is visible through a row of spires on the Washington National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. Sections of the roof were damaged from falling pieces of the cathedral during a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011 (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)A section of patched roof is visible through a row of spires on the Washington National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. Sections of the roof were damaged from falling pieces of the cathedral during a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011 (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Head Stone Mason Joe Alonso runs his hand along a large chip of stone still in need of repair on the exterior of the Washington National Cathedral, which sustained millions of dollars worth of damage from a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Head Stone Mason Joe Alonso runs his hand along a large chip of stone still in need of repair on the exterior of the Washington National Cathedral, which sustained millions of dollars worth of damage from a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Large cracks like this one can be seen in many areas on the Washington National Cathedral which sustained millions of dollars worth of damage from a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Large cracks like this one can be seen in many areas on the Washington National Cathedral which sustained millions of dollars worth of damage from a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Head Stone Mason Joe Alonso shows a large crack still in need of repair on the exterior of the Washington National Cathedral, which sustained millions of dollars worth of damage from a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Head Stone Mason Joe Alonso shows a large crack still in need of repair on the exterior of the Washington National Cathedral, which sustained millions of dollars worth of damage from a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • The profile of Head Stone Mason Joe Alonso is visible through a large crack in the exterior still in need of repair on the exterior of the Washington National Cathedral, which sustained millions of dollars worth of damage from a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)The profile of Head Stone Mason Joe Alonso is visible through a large crack in the exterior still in need of repair on the exterior of the Washington National Cathedral, which sustained millions of dollars worth of damage from a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Cathedral Stone Mason/Stone Carver Sean Callahan works on repairing a section of the North east corner of the Apse, the eastern most point of the Washington National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. Repairs continue on the Washington National Cathedral, which sustained millions of dollars worth of damage from a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011(Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Cathedral Stone Mason/Stone Carver Sean Callahan works on repairing a section of the North east corner of the Apse, the eastern most point of the Washington National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. Repairs continue on the Washington National Cathedral, which sustained millions of dollars worth of damage from a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011(Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Cathedral Stone Mason/Stone Carver Sean Callahan works on repairing a section of the North east corner of the Apse, the eastern most point of the Washington National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. Repairs continue on the Washington National Cathedral, which sustained millions of dollars worth of damage from a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011(Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Cathedral Stone Mason/Stone Carver Sean Callahan works on repairing a section of the North east corner of the Apse, the eastern most point of the Washington National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. Repairs continue on the Washington National Cathedral, which sustained millions of dollars worth of damage from a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011(Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Cathedral Stone Mason/Stone Carvers Sean Callahan and Andy Uhl, right, pose for a photo on the top of  scaffolding constructed on the north east corner of the Apse, the eastern most point of the Washington National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. Repairs continue on the Washington National Cathedral, which sustained millions of dollars worth of damage from a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011(Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)

Cathedral Stone Mason/Stone Carvers Sean Callahan and Andy Uhl, right, pose for a photo on the top of scaffolding constructed on the north east corner of the Apse, the eastern most point of the Washington National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. Repairs continue on the Washington National Cathedral, which sustained millions of dollars worth of damage from a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011(Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Cathedral Stone Mason/Stone Carvers Sean Callahan and Andy Uhl, right, pose for a photo as they make their way down scaffolding constructed on the north east corner of the Apse, the eastern most point of the Washington National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. Repairs continue on the Washington National Cathedral, which sustained millions of dollars worth of damage from a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011(Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)

Cathedral Stone Mason/Stone Carvers Sean Callahan and Andy Uhl, right, pose for a photo as they make their way down scaffolding constructed on the north east corner of the Apse, the eastern most point of the Washington National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. Repairs continue on the Washington National Cathedral, which sustained millions of dollars worth of damage from a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011(Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Cathedral Stone Mason/Stone Carvers Sean Callahan, left, and Andy Uhl, right, pose for a photo on the top of  scaffolding constructed on the north east corner of the Apse, the eastern most point of the Washington National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. Repairs continue on the Washington National Cathedral, which sustained millions of dollars worth of damage from a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011(Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)

Cathedral Stone Mason/Stone Carvers Sean Callahan, left, and Andy Uhl, right, pose for a photo on the top of scaffolding constructed on the north east corner of the Apse, the eastern most point of the Washington National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. Repairs continue on the Washington National Cathedral, which sustained millions of dollars worth of damage from a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in August of 2011(Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
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Stone carver Andy Uhl has had his hands on some of Washington, D.C.’s most famous buildings — the White House, Lincoln Memorial, Folger Theater, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception — but he got his start as an apprentice at the Washington National Cathedral. That’s why, when he stepped out onto the stone behemoth’s central tower two years ago to survey the damage caused by a magnitude 5.8 earthquake, Mr. Uhl took it especially hard.

“I thought I’d be emotionally unattached, but going up on the tower and seeing a lot of damage, it was like the wind being sucked out of you,” the 49-year-old said Tuesday as he remembered that first look. “I learned something about myself that day.”

Decades after Mr. Uhl started his apprenticeship at the cathedral on Wisconsin Avenue Northwest, he has returned to his roots as part of a small crew of stone carvers and masons tasked with painstakingly restoring and strengthening the church.

“Part of the rebuilding is how can we better reinforce the cathedral,” mason foreman Joseph Alonso said. “What can we do to put it back together in a more earthquake-resistant way.”

That question is what Mr. Alonso and his small team have been working on for the past 20 months since the earthquake occurred in Mineral, Va., about 90 miles from the District.

Thanks to a $5 million endowment, the crew was able to erect special scaffolding this year that allows workers an up-close examination of the six flying buttresses damaged during the quake.

Climbers on the scaffolding can easily reach out and feel the rough stones that have been left untouched for decades after stonemasons placed them high above the ground during construction. Amid the broad buttresses are large stained-glass windows that escaped any damage.

When the earthquake struck, the cathedral’s spires twisted on their bases while the buttresses stretched and compressed like an accordion.

“All the energy went up and up and up,” he explained. “It’s mind-boggling how this stuff moved.”

People in nearly 20 states reported feeling the earth shake. It caused upward of $300 million in damage, including to the Washington Monument, which is also in the midst of a lengthy and expensive repair.

This particular 1-ton spire amid the scaffolding still sways in the wind, and even under the strong hands of Mr. Alonso, demonstrating the power with which the cathedral was rocked.

Once Mr. Alonso and his crew finish their work on this buttress and tower, it should help engineers with their assessment of how the rest of the buttresses and stonework should be repaired.

“We’re very faithfully reproducing what was there,” Mr. Alonso said.

A towering man himself at 6-feet-5-inches tall, Mr. Alonso has been working at the cathedral since 1985. He talks animatedly about the building. He pauses at a cluster of initials and names etched into the metal roof — some date back half a century — and he doesn’t hesitate to lean over a stone balcony to point out certain chips and cracks amid the spires.

Meredith MacKenzie, spokeswoman for the cathedral, said $9 million has been raised to help restore the cathedral but at least $20 million is needed for the repairs, which could take up to 10 years to complete.

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